Mitt Romney worked to make his voice heard above the roar of a tropical storm Sunday, striking back at President Barack Obama and scrambling plans for his weather-shortened convention to deliver his pitch to the nation. “A campaign of anger,” he said of Obama.
Activities continued Sunday in Tampa, including a rally for Texas Rep. Ron Paul that attracted thousands of raucous supporters, while major business of the Republican National Convention including the nomination of Romney for president has been postponed until Tuesday. Party officials announced Sunday that all major speakers will be shoehorned into a three-day program beginning Tuesday afternoon as Tropical Storm Isaac swirled off the coast.
“We are planning on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,’’ Republican chairman Reince Priebus said. He would not rule out further changes as the storm continued its trek up the Gulf Coast.
The Tampa Bay region braced for strong winds Monday on what had been expected to be the first day of the GOP convention that will bring 50,000 delegates, journalists and sponsors to the area. The area was under a tropical storm warning – not a hurricane warning – suggesting the possibility of winds up to 73 miles an hour.
City and state officials made adjustments at the convention site, adding sandbags to security fences to hold them in place during Mondaywinds, and taking down tents over delegate loading areas with plans to put them back up Tuesday after the worst of the storm passed. "It's just going to be a squirrelly day," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched teams to Florida and Louisiana, and officials monitored Alabama, Mississippi and other southeastern states. Obama, who spent the day at Camp David Sunday, phoned Florida Gov. Rick Scott to offer his support in responding to the storm.
With Isaac threatening the convention’s carefully scripted message, Romney worked aggressively sell himself to potential voters Sunday.
He penned an article in the local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, stressing his ability to fix the economy. His campaign released a new TV ad criticizing Obama for Medicare cuts. And he used a Sunday TV interview to blast Obama for the president’s latest round of attacks, punctuated by Obama’s comments published Saturday labeling Romney as an extremist.
“That’s a campaign of anger and divisiveness,’’ Romney said on Fox News Sunday. “I think his whole campaign he’s been about dividing the American people...I think people have seen this kind of a character assassination and divisiveness as being very different than the campaign of hope and change which he ran on originally.’’
Romney also was responding to a weeklong barrage from the president and Democratic allies criticizing Republicans for their opposition to abortion rights after a Republican Senate candidate, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, suggested there is no need to allow abortion in cases of rape because pregnancy is rare after a "legitimate rape." Under fire from both major political parties, he quickly apologized, but refused to withdraw from the race.
Romney also urged Akin to drop out of the Senate campaign, and stressed that he would allow abortion rights in cases of rape, unlike Akin.
“It obviously is being used by Democrats to try and cast a shadow on our entire party and it’s not,’’ Romney said in the interview.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, joined the anti-Romney chorus Sunday as he endorsed Obama and slammed Republicans for veering to the “extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.”
In Tampa, the day’s biggest, liveliest event was the five-hour long rally for Paul, who lost his bid for the Republican nomination but maintains a fervent fan base.
The affair was a last hurrah of sorts, since Paul and his backers are unlikely to be heard much during the actual convention. He has about 160 of the 2,286 delegates, hardly enough to force fights over the party platform. His son Rand, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, is expected to speak during the prime time sessions, but the Pauls have had virtually no influence on Romney’s plans or policies.
So his supporters gathered Sunday, and sent the words that many are unlikely to back Romney in the fall unless they see him move closer to Paul’s views. “I can’t support anyone who supports a foreign policy that basically hasn’t changed since World War II,” said Pierce Giboney, a railroad worker from Jacksonville.
Many Paul backers decried the foreign policy views of Romney and Obama; Paul wants the U.S. to only send troops into conflict with a clear mission and a declaration of war by Congress. At one point, the hall rocked to the song, “War, What is it good for?” by Edwin Starr.
Paul’s views appealed to Marine Cpl. Marcus Dandrea, who lost both his legs in combat. He’s served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recalled how, when he joined the military five years ago at age 17, “you don’t know a lot about politics.” Now, he said, “I understand a lot more,” and appreciates Paul’s frankness. “Think about the power a president has,” Dandrea said. “He can send troops or bomb another country if he wants to. He should follow the Constitution. It was really meant to keep our nation safe.”
Others in the crowd were more eager to discuss the nation’s ailing economy. Paul wants to dismantle the Federal Reserve System and has offered specific ways of trimming $1 trillion from the federal budget next year and eliminate five Cabinet agencies.